Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Freddy Got Fingered - Analysis

[I wrote this about two years ago during the summer of '06.  I recently rediscovered it floating around on the Internet, and found it amusingly arbitrary enough to repost here. Enjoy, hopefully!]

Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo
. Scary Movie. The Dukes of Hazzard. The Hot Chick. Little Man.

All these films, when stripped of their respective skins and their bones revealed, seem to be powered by the same fuel -- the assumption that stupidity, randomness, and arbitrary helpings of pain and gross-out humor make for great comedy. Needless to say, these things don't make for great comedy. In fact (while I now deftly avoid his films), Rob Schneider's starring turn in Deuce Bigalow is about as funny as your standard partial-birth abortion, and to this day stands as one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

But it's not an aberration of any kind. No, here in America, horrific comedies are an accepted way of life, and for every 40-Year-Old Virgin that presents us with charming characters we get ten comedies with nary a human who isn't loathsome onscreen. For every Sideways that gives us hilarious observations about the human condition we get ten comedies without any brains in their heads. And for every Wedding Crashers that gives us genuinely funny slapstick and ribald humor, we get ten supposedly funny movies with no understanding at all of how to use these elements. It's a sad state of affairs where the norm is basically shit.

But there's one film that to critics and to large swaths of the cinematically aware population seems to stand as the king of all that is wrong with modern cinema, frequently regarded as an all-time low point and one of the worst films ever made. I speak of 2001's Freddy Got Fingered, written by, directed by, and starring Tom Green.

"Daddy would you like some sausage?!"

It was Roger Ebert who famously said of Freddy Got Fingered, "This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels." Universally panned and derided as a moronic, deeply disgusting and pointless new low for cinema as a modern art form, I naturally avoided the film for many years, and put it out of my mind just as surely as I mentally shut down every time a preview for a film starring Rob Schneider pops up.

But then a few years ago I happened upon it on TV and watched it out of a sense of pure masochism, and was horrified to find myself laughing. Like, not a couple of chuckles, like laughing a lot. Like the kind of laughter that causes my eyes to tear up, my lungs to hurt, and for me to miss dialouge because of the laughter, the kind of laughter that cures disease and builds civilizations, the kind of laughter that makes you feel alive again. I wondered, what's wrong with me? I don't like Rob Schneider films. I don't like David Spade films. I rarely like Adam Sandler films. Was I losing my taste, was I becoming stupid and placid with the status quo? Or was there something else going on?

I put the matter aside for a few years, until just now, when I rewatched Freddy Got Fingered on DVD. Once again I laughed, and now, a little older and a little wiser, with hair in places I never could have imagined before, more comfortable with my own opinions, I can say with authority that I feel Freddy Got Fingered couldn't be any further from the works of Rob Schneider and his ilk. It wields a core not of stupidity, but one of honed, sharp satire, making the film a modern masterpiece of neo-surrealism and a beautiful piece of aggressively bizarre performance art.

"You can't hurt me! Not with my cheese helmet!"

Basically, Green's film is about a man named Gord Brody who dreams of being a professional animator; a hugely colorful, ambitious 28-year-old with boundless energy and creativity nonetheless bound by his monotonous job at the cheese sandwich factory and a father, Jim, who is nothing but ashamed of him. He meets a girl named Betty who also has a dream, and falls in love with her. When Betty reaches her goals, Gord is inspired and finally achieves success as an animator, leaving the only hurdle to jump over his relationship with his father. He confronts Jim and the two finally learn to respect and love one another.

The outline sounds like something plucked from any family film you can imagine, and therein lies the genius -- it is just that. Although it's easy to lose sight of it within the chaos of his creation, Green structures what turns out to be a rather heartfelt thesis about fear of losing one's identity and dreams to the tightening grip of adult responsibility, and the lengths people will go to to seek love from their family. But what appalled critics about the film is the thick lairs of surrealism encasing every scene, every character, and every line of dialogue.

Gord Brody is an absurdist figure who, during the course of the film, impersonates a doctor for no particular reason and delivers a pregnant woman's baby, then proceeds to swing it around by its umbilical cord to bring it back to life, jerks off both a horse and an elephant because he's stunned by the size of their penises, cuts open a dead moose on the road and climbs inside, licks the bone sticking out of a man's open wound, pretends his home phone is a cellular telephone to impress his date, wears scuba gear in the shower, makes a "cheese helmet" out of cheese slices and brags of his newfound invulnerability, and a dozen other things I couldn't even possibly get into. Even his sweet girlfriend is a paraplegic, sexually deviant nymphomaniac who orgasms from being beaten viciously on her paralyzed legs and loves nothing more in the world than sucking cock.

Gord shows off his cellular telephone

If it all sounds dark and disturbing, that's exactly because it's meant to. This is a deeply surrealistic work that, even while making you laugh with its portrait of the lowest depths of humanity and sheer disgusting humor, cuts itself off so much from the real world it purports to exist in that you, the viewer, lose your frame of reference and, for lack of a better term, anything to hold onto. This is a piece evolved not from the tradition of 1990s dumb gross-out comedy, but grown from the same soil as Luis Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Federico Fellini's , surreal in a way that cuts deeply within. But it would be ridiculous of me to directly compare Tom Green to renowned cinematic masters, so I'll contrast him with another neophyte in the arena -- namely Miranda July, the mind behind last year's critically renowned Me and You and Everyone We Know.

In her film, Miranda July plays a character named Christine, a performance artist aspiring to do her work professionally (similarly to Gord in Freddy Got Fingered, who wants to animate professionally) who creates bizarre art and sees the beauty in everything. She writes "Me" and "You" on her shoes, because, you know, it's art, man. She asks a man to call her, say only "Macaroni," and hang up, and god damn if that exact call wasn't made. But whereas Gord's bizarre performance art is played for laughs, Christine's is dramatically quirky and supposedly rife with meaning. Both films contain romantic subplots -- one played for laughs and one for "whoa, man, isn't the universe, like, full of meaning," and pedophilia subplots -- again, one played for laughs and one meant to make a statement about life and universe. Both have countless random and nonsensical scenes wrapped around a narrative. What it goes to show is that surrealism is apparently only okay when it's "art" down to its bones, but when it's meant to be humorous, it become critically unacceptable.

Not to say that Freddy doesn't have its roots firmly embedded in art history. If you trace it back, surrealism is the most common of a group of artistic movements, along with Pop Art and Fluxus, descended from a common father, Dadaism. Dadaism, a movement that began in Zürich, Switzerland during World War I and peaked between 1916 and 1920, largely as part of an anti-war political movement, is most commonly defined as "anti-art." Every ideal that so-called true art is meant to stand for, Dadaism is meant to turn on its head. Stripped of aesthetics, meaning, meant to offend and subject itself entirely to viewer interpretation. Although out of the time frame of Dada art by many, many decades, Freddy Got Fingered fits nearly all of the qualifications of the movement.

Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q., an early example of Dadaism

Therein lies the central beauty and meaning of his film. Given a $14 million budget because of the relative popularity of his TV show, studios trusted in Tom Green to do the gross-out humor he did best and give them another cookie-cutter awful comedy. So Green took a beloved Hollywood formula, a man finding success, love, and family, and twisted it so far it was more than merely a parody, it was a horrifying parody of a parody. Designed with no intention of being enjoyed by any decent person, money wasn't an object for Green, nor was profit. He spent his $14 million on geysers of fake blood, fake babies to be abused, animal corpses, absurd costuming, and a helicopter acting as a brilliant piece of irony as Green's character Gord wastes his money from animating on it for almost no reason, just as Tom Green the filmmaker does.

This is Dadaism -- Tom Green was given the money and trusted to stick to formula, and he gave a $14 million "Fuck you!" to Hollywood, even while making his thematic statement of growing up and family, by sticking everything in a surrealistic work too unusual for the crowd they were after and too disgusting for anyone else.

This is where it was all lost on critics. Blinded by the viscerally disgusting nature of the picture, critics lost sight of what Tom Green was doing, and assumed that Freddy Got Fingered was a dumb parody of the family film or the bildungsroman, in the same way that the recent Date Movie was a dumb parody of romantic comedies or Not Another Teen Movie was a dumb parody of teen films (albeit one that showed off the Yellow Ranger's bare breasts in at least five or six scenes, it's important not to lose sight of that). But by making the film so darkly surreal, what Green has actually created is one of the only double-laired parodies I've ever heard of. It's actually a very sharp, intelligent parody of the dumb parody of a family film or a bildungsroman. The lairs and meaning dig deeper than they appear on the surface.

Jim gives Gord a piece of his mind

But despite all my big talk about the film's true artistic meaning, the main reason I really like Freddy Got Fingered is that I find its dark surrealism insanely damn funny. Like I said, I laughed ridiculously hard when I first watched this film, and I laughed ridiculously hard when I watched it a second time just now. Looking at it through the lens of Tom Green intentionally wasting studio money on utter, depraved, surreal lunacy, knowing how appalled the financial backers were when they saw what he had created, heightens the humor all the more. Unlike the gross-out comedy it masquerades as, this film is best viewed for maximum comedic enjoyment not with your brain powered down, but with heightened realization of the sharp satire it is, absorbing the insanity with full brunt.

And that's what it all boils down to. Despite Richard Roeper's claim that Tom Green "should be flipping burgers somewhere," and not making movies, every time he opens his trap in the film, I end up laughing. I couldn't even read IMDb's quotes page for the film without laughing out loud at almost half the quotes, remembering them in context from the film. When Gord takes an animation executive's suggestion that he "get inside the animals" that he's animating (from a character standpoint) literally and cuts open and crawls inside a dead moose, or when Betty tells him that she doesn't care about money and just wants to suck his cock with tears of love in her eyes, or when the scene that the film's title comes from rolls around, I'm laughing harder than I've laughed in weeks. They say that insanity and genius are merely the reverse sides of the same extreme, one the shadow of the other, and Tom Green's writing is often both at once. An idiot he may play, both in this movie and in his real-life persona, but he's a sharp guy, and its difficult to even fathom how he conceived some of the absurd non sequiturs and manic lunacy in the film's screenplay.

"Well... we can't have that, cause, you know, a cheese sandwich with no cheese, it's just... two pieces of bread, and you know what? I could lose my job! I could lose all this! So you can... have... all... the cheese... you want!"

Gord gets inside the animal

In the same review where he derided it as a ghastly new low, Ebert said that Freddy Got Fingered could well be a "milestone of neo-surrealism." I couldn't agree more with Roger; this film exists in a class all on its own. For a first-time director, it's an incredibly bold, confident, and assured vision, and accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. I'm not claiming it's one of my favorite films, or anywhere close, but as far as I'm concerned it's a great comedy, a provocative statement, and a completely worthy DVD purchase.

3 Stars out of 5

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